I saw a call for writers recently asking for “Twitter-sized” poems. I suppose crunching a thought into a 140 character poem is not so bad—after all, a haiku would have great difficulty reaching that length and most of my Word of the Day epigrams fit within this restriction—but it’s the premise that bothers me. Poetry requires form: something to separate it from prose. I’m not denouncing all free-verse and slam poems—I have seen both well-done…on occasion—but I see them as different art “forms” from the intellectual process of crafting chaos with the ordered form of poetry. One man keeping the formal fight alive with humourous couplets is British poet Tony Harrison.
Harrison was recommended to me by a Classical Literature professor at UBC not for any of Harrison’s translations of Greek plays (most notably Hecuba and the Oresteia), but for a poem about the Gulf War. The poem, “A Cold Coming”, is an imagined interview between Harrison and the charred remains of an Iraqi truck driver killed in a missile attack (in the photograph below). The title has lofty origins (swiped from T.S. Eliot’s “Gift of the Magi”), but in the poem it refers to frozen spermatozoa (which he rhymes).
I then bought a book of his selected poetry, and from it I highly recommend v. and “A Kumquat for John Keats”.
There are many excellent formal poets still alive and writing (…or recently dead). If you have a favourite, please suggest the poet in a comment.
April 27th, 2010 at 07:05
Another great place to discover new poems is the new spoken word poetry album “Poetic License: 100 Poems/100 Performers” featuring Jason Alexander, Patti LuPone, Michael York, Kate Mulgrew, Paul Provenza and 95 other top performers reading a poem of their choosing. If you know anyone who claims that they don’t like poetry, you should get them this album so they can hear the magic that you already see on the page.
For more info, to read the amazing reviews, or to purchase the album, visit GPRRecords.com.
“Poetic License” is available for purchase and preview on iTunes. Here’s a link to Part 1 of the album: http://bit.ly/poeticlicense_itunes
Said Trav S.D. on his blog Travalanche:
“Three of my favorite poems happen to occur all in a row: Poe’s Annabel Lee, Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Tennyson’s Ulysses — it’s like back-to-back hits on the poetry Top 40. Furthermore, the indiscriminate mix of bold-faced names and literary classics produces more than usual interest. Florence Henderson reads Longfellow! Barbara Feldon reads Margaret Atwood! And a long list of others: Christine Baranksi, Jason Alexander, Cynthia Nixon, Charles Busch, Michael York, JoBeth Williams, Paul Provenza, Richard Thomas, Kate Mulgrew, etc etc etc.”